Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lebanon dispatch

(Marion's photo - left - shows an unidentified warship off Beirut, either part of the evacuation or part of the Israeli blockade) From Marion in Beirut. She sent this to me yesterday (saturday) apologies in the delay in getting it posted. Again I have added a few relevant links to things she mentions:

Saturday 22 July 2006

In the two previous reports I was so much taken with the political side of the Israeli-Hizballah war, that maybe now I should take the time to write about more ‘human’ issues and introduce myself a bit to my readers.

I am 31 years old, and come from a Christian Maronite background. I live on the periphery of Beirut, in a calm Christian area on a hill called Bsalim. From my balcony, I can see downtown Beirut(the pic is taken looking SE, with the airport in southern Beirut clearly visible - Toby.) the sea and the main highway that connects the north of the country to Beirut. Usually on a typical summer night or day, this highway has nonstop traffic. But since the beginning of this war, only a few cars are passing. For the last ten days the sounds of Israeli planes above our heads and the sounds of bombs exploding have been our daily routine. Luckily there has been no bombs on the area where I live yet. That has not been the case for thousands of others Lebanese who have not left their shelters so far. However, people living in my area are frightened that Israeli planes will target the power station just few hundred meters above my home. Some years ago this station was targeted and heavily bombed by Israel. I shall never forget the sound of that bomb and the sky’s colour turning from the black of night to the extreme red of the flames. Back then all the windows in our neighborhood were blown out, not to mention the terror it left us in.

This time, and with every sound of an Israeli plane above our heads, we pray they wont hit the power station. And luckily so far we have been spared. This means we still have electricity but not for 24 hours a day. This is in order to save fuel because the Israeli naval blockade is stopping any oil from arriving by sea. Sooner or later if this war will go on, the power stations will run out of fuel and we will be out of electricity.

Yesterday it was a bit quiet, not many Israeli jets above, so I took the opportunity to go to the supermarket. Naturally with the start of every war there is an immense rush by people to stock up on water and food supplies. On the news, I saw Israeli people rushing to get food supplies. The situation is no different in Lebanon. I went to the supermarket in my town and was surprised to see the huge amounts of people there. I tried to make my way down the aisles. Some shelves were still fully loaded with food and products. I stopped at the milk/yogurt aisle and was shocked to see the shelves almost empty. I knew that the big factory which produces milk and yogurt products under the brand name of “Candia/Liban Lait” located in the Bekaa Valley was bombed by Israel last week and therefore has stopped producing. Naturally I expected this brand to be out of stock in the shelves, but what I did not expect was the almost complete absence of any other milk brands on the shelves. I continued my round and was also astonished that all kinds of pasta, canned food and bottled water had sold out. Bread was still available in big quantities. When I reached the cashier, I witnessed a quarrel between a woman and the manager of the supermarket. She insisted on taking three bottles of milk. And he was trying to explain to her calmly she could not take three, but rather just one in order that to keep the other two for people who might also need milk. Finally the woman surrendered. I looked around me and was also surprised to see many Shiite women, wearing their distinctive chadors, who were with their families shopping for food. I have been in this town for all my life and have never seen a Muslim person here. I overheard them talk to each other and it turned out that they were indeed refugees from the south, finding shelter in the school in my town.

I left the supermarket having my share of surprises for one visit. The drive back from the grocery shop was not too surprising; fruits and vegetables were still all available although the prices have gone up. For example lemons that used to be 70 cents per kilogram are no $3.25. Quite shocking!

In the streets people’s faces seemed tired, not physically but rather mentally, from this situation. I stopped at two schools in the neighbourhood. They were both housing refugees from the south, yet not full. I have heard that schools in the heart of Beirut are more full. The site I saw was children playing on the playgrounds, women drinking coffee outside or boiling food on small fire ovens, others placing their laundry on ropes that they had managed to hang from one side of a wall to the other, men having the radio on and discussing the situation. Other cities have also opened their schools and churches for these refugees.

People’s views on this humanitarian crisis differ: the majority is offering help despite the difference in their political views and religion from the refugees. But they just try to avoid talking politics with them in order not to start any confrontations. Others who see flows of refugees in their cities prefer to refrain from helping and claim they will not help the people who dragged their country to destruction, people who still shout of the glory of Hizballah and who are going through this war with pride.

On the other hand, with the sudden flow of refugees and this mixture of religions together in one environment may cause a problem. Refugees who mostly are conservative Shiites are now living among more liberal Christian people who drink alcohol and wear the type of clothing a Shiia never would. Lebanon is one country but the communities are very different from each other. Hopefully this won’t result in clashes at some point.

The Government for its side, along with the help from the municipalities and the Red Cross in the regions, has opened operation bases with call numbers in order to receive calls from people in need. Yet sadly this is unlikely to help the people most in need where the huge amounts of destruction done to infrastructure like bridges and roads means that medicine, first aid and food supplies are not reacning some villages in the south. On our local TV, every day there are desperate pleas from specific villages that call for food/medicine. The hospitals in Beirut, and surrounding Beirut and in Christian areas, are not filled to capacity with injured. The major problem falls on hospitals in the south and in the Bekaa Valley where the major crises are: for example the hospital of Marj Aayoun reached the point were it was not capable of accepting more injured and desperately needs more medical supplies.

In a neutral local radio station “Loubnan Al Horr” (translated: “Free Lebanon”), there is a live programme every morning and I cannot help but shiver listening to people calling looking for their family members whom they have not heard from in unreachable villages on the border such as Rmeich and Ayta Al Chaab.

Monday, if the situation seems safe, our office will open for at least few hours. It will be my first visit to in the heart of Beirut since this war started. I will see what is happening in different areas. Expect a report from me at the beginning of next week, Inshallah (with god’s will).

Marion A.J.

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